February 04, 2016

India: Dear Mr Doval, we need to talk about Hindutva terror


Hindutva politics
Dear Mr Doval, we need to talk about Hindutva terror
The mushrooming of radical Hindutva groups and their propensity to script vigilante violence reveals the myopia of India's security establishment.
Ajaz Ashraf 5 February 2016

National Security Advisor Ajit Doval has won accolades for his patriotism manifest in the many risky missions he is said to have undertaken in a shadowy world where violence is both a lure and compulsion of its inhabitants.

His experience is precisely why we would want to know from him, or the Intelligence Bureau he once headed, whether or not the violence that mushrooming militant Hindu groups indulge in imperils the nation’s security.

Doval’s views will be an education for us. As National Security Advisor, he is in a position to predict what is often referred to as emerging security threats to the nation. He will also be able to tell us whether myriad Hindu militant groups are even on the radar of the Intelligence Bureau.

The nation must know

Officers of the Intelligence Bureau often give journalists off-the-record briefings to let the nation know what is on their radar. It is through these briefings that the nation has become aware of the growing radicalisation of Muslim youth, the temptation they face to join the Islamic State and their desire to wage jihad in the Islamic netherworld.

This is also how we know that the Intelligence Bureau monitors Internet accounts, tracks the cyber footprints of citizens suspected of having been radicalised and picks up and counsels or books anyone who crosses the line. The briefings have given us a hint of how some parents feel beholden to the Intelligence Bureau for saving their children from the brutality of jihad and inevitable death.

Again, they inform us when sleeping terror cells are busted, and when terror strikes, as it did recently in Pathankot, we are furnished with graphic details of the identity of those who sponsored it, their Indian supporters, and the markings on guns and ammunition found at the attack site that reveal their place of origin.

Such accounts from the Intelligence Bureau also surface in the media every time Maoist violence extinguishes lives in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand or Orissa. Their subtext often is: the Red violence or terror is inimical to the country’s development and, therefore, a threat to its security.

Security threat

It is, therefore, surprising that we haven’t had the Intelligence Bureau brief the media on the security threat posed to the nation by the saffron or Hindutva or Hindu terror, regardless of whichever term is appropriate. Its silence on Hindutva terror and vigilantism appear puzzling because it is said to have verified the caste identity of Rohith Vemula to claim he was a member of the Other Backward Classes, and not a Dalit.

Since the Intelligence Bureau does not seem very interested, Doval must let us know whether or not Hindutva terror poses a security challenge to the nation in the same way that violence by the radical Left does.

Mushrooming groups

There is no denying that Hindutva has become increasingly menacing. There hasn’t been a week in the last 18 months when a story on one or the other Hindu militant groups resorting to violence somewhere in the country has not featured in the media. Some of these groups are freshly minted. True, they don’t toss grenades or fire bullets, but they aim to terrorise people who more often than not happen to be religious minorities and marginalised groups.

When Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, the media was abuzz with stories about the proliferation of senas (should we refer to them as militias?) in and around Delhi. We were familiarised with names like the Rashtravadi Pratap Sena, Choudhary Charan Singh Sena and the Samadhan Sena, billed as the most notorious of all. Village elders were quoted saying that these outfits were roping in the youth to carry out attacks on Muslims.

Deafening silence

But even as these reports popped up, there wasn’t a squeak from officials in the Intelligence Bureau on whether the conspiracy to vitiate the social ambience was also a threat to national security. Nor has any official briefed the media about what they think of outfits such as the Hindu Swabhiman which believes that the Islamic State will occupy Western UP by 2020.

You can dismiss this as a dystopian fantasy till you learn that the Hindu Swabhiman is said to have trained 15,000 youth, including minors, for a war in 2020. Isn’t it possible that the nightmarish imagination of youth being trained for war may mistake every bearded man as a potential Islamic State recruit?

Or take the Goa-based Sanatan Sanstha, which is accused of triggering blasts in 2007 and more recently has been linked to the murders of votaries of rational thinking like Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. The 2007 bombings of the Samjhauta Express, the Ajmer dargah and the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad, and the 2008 Malegaon blasts all had the imprint of militant Hindus too.

Growing vigilantism

Apart from these little-known shadowy outfits, RSS-affiliated groups indulge in vigilante violence, pummel their political rivals or incite mob fury to terrorise social groups who are either a numerical minority or disempowered.

In Jalaun district of Uttar Pradesh, Bajrang Dal activists recently tonsured a man, shaved half his moustache and eyebrows, garlanded him with shoes and paraded him on a donkey around town. They accused their victim of taking four Hindus, including two Dalits, to a local church and inspiring their conversion. Three of the four, however, told district officials that they went to the church but had not converted.

Sangh foot soldiers have repeatedly stopped vehicles ferrying cattle purchased legitimately and beaten up the drivers severely. The most recent incident of this kind occurred in Delhi. In Madhya Pradesh, the state government booked the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s minority cell under the National Security Act on the charge of cow-slaughter. In Madhya Pradesh, again, members of the Gauraksha Samiti beat up a Muslim couple on a train on suspicion that they had beef in their possession.

State protection?

The government’s response to an outcry over such incidents, categorised as communal, is predictable. As has become the norm since the Dadri lynching, the Home Ministry furnishes statistics to establish that the incidence of communal violence under the NDA government has dipped in comparison to what it had been under the UPA.

But the mushrooming of senas and their propensity to script vigilante violence was not the type of communal violence witnessed under the UPA. Ever since the Modi government came into power, communal incidents are no longer spontaneous outbursts but are deliberately crafted in the knowledge that their perpetrators enjoy the state’s protection. They seek to terrorise and compel people to submit to the Hindutva agenda.

The acts of vigilantism are so frequent and have spread over such a wide swathe that they qualify for the nomenclature of oppression. Hindutva extremists don’t just target religious minorities and marginalised groups but anyone opposing the Sangh. Think of the merciless pounding of students protesting Rohith Vemula’s suicide in Delhi with the police joining in.

Long-term consequences

The brutal arrogance of Hindutva will have consequences. It will certainly alienate a section of the population and spawn in them a deep distrust of the Indian state for tacitly supporting what is patently unjust.

People don’t have to go the Internet to become radicalised. The process of radicalisation is already underway in real life – from UP to Delhi to Karnataka to Maharashtra to Hyderabad. This will surely impact India’s security architecture if not now, later.

But you won’t catch the Intelligence Bureau briefing journalists on the security dimensions of the social tumult we are witnessing. Its officers will not tell us whether they are monitoring the activities of Hindu radicals, or that they even have a list of them, or that their cyber activities or mobile chats are being tracked, or that they have been persuaded or deterred from joining militant outfits. Nor will you get even a basic analysis of why such groups have mushroomed over the last 18 months.

It is possible that the Intelligence Bureau perceives Hindu radicals as benign because they don’t target the state but the people. But a state found wanting in protecting its citizens ultimately undermines its own foundation. This is why Ajit Doval must provide the nation with his perspective on the security challenges that extremist Hindus pose, because, frankly speaking, a good many people believe they have had enough of them.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It is available in bookstores.
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